To say that the Middle East peace process lies in ruins would be the understatement of the century. The world should count itself lucky if full-fledged war does not break out any day between Israel and its neighbors, a prospect that tragically seems more than likely at this point. From the West Bank and Gaza to Lebanon to Yemen, events have spun completely out of control. Those who set them in motion and there is much blame to be spread around here bear a grim responsibility.
For the United States, the crisis was brought home yesterday as suicide bombers in a small, but deadly vessel, ripped a gaping hole in the destroyer USS Cole, which was visiting the port of Aden in Yemen. Five American sailors were killed, 11 are still missing and more than 30 were wounded. As President Clinton said, this was “a cowardly act” in the extreme. Our prayers and thoughts go out to the families of the sailors who were bravely serving their country.
For the past week, Palestinian violence against Israel, its citizens and its soldiers, has been escalating. Practically no one buys the argument anymore that the visit of Likud politician Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount had much to do with it. This has been a campaign clearly prepared and orchestrated by the PLO leadership probably in the hopes of exacting further concessions in the now-wrecked peace negotiations.
Yesterday, two Israeli soldiers paid with their lives, victims of a lynch mob in the West Bank town of Ramallah, brutally stabbed to death by an aggressive mob. In retaliation, Israeli helicopter gunships sent missiles crashing into Palestinian targets in two cities Thursday. Meanwhile Hezbollah guerrillas in Southern Lebanon, whose security zone Israel only recently evacuated, hold three Israeli soldiers hostage demanding the release of fundamentalist terrorists in Israeli jails.
One can certainly sympathize with the desperate exhortation made by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, whose peace mission to the Middle East has met with total failure so far: “I appeal to all leaders and citizens alike to stop and think about what they are doing today and what kind of tomorrow they want for their children. Violence breeds violence,” Mr. Annan said in a statement after leaving Beirut. “I urge you to opt for restraint.” At this point, he is speaking to deaf ears.